Commissioning Advantages and The Tools to Achieve Them

Commissioning (Cx) is professional specialist service that has grown in popularity over the past decade and a half. The process is similar to what had been happening before commissioning providers were a thing, but it has become developed into its own profession as the need for efficiency and sustainability has come to the forefront of owner’s requirements. Since the beginning, designers, owners, and builders worked through problems that arose through the construction phase, but many issues still went unidentified and unaddressed. The utilization of the service has become a requirement by some certification programs, such as LEED, because of its proven ability to improve overall building efficiency, occupant comfort, and reduce operating costs. The practice has expanded into multiple types of Cx, such as New Building, Re/Retro-commissioning and On-going Cx. Commissioning Providers use a variety of tools and software in order to keep track, verify and the document all the commissioned electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems.

For New Construction Building Commissioning, the Building Owner’s Requirement and the Basis of Design set the stage for what we will be tracking. This determines the direction of the project and the goals we are looking to meet. In order to keep track of the various air, water, gas and electrical systems during the design, submittal, and installation phases, forms and checklists are used to document the steps along the way. Depending on the size of the project, the amount of documentation can become quite the large stack of papers! We are talking about up to hundreds of pieces of equipment and components that need Startup Checklists and Functional Performance Testing. Internet based Commissioning software help us with the organization of the whole process from beginning to end. It is rather important to not lose track of any steps during the process, so the programs help us standardize our forms and checklists, while allowing for easy customization for specialty systems that might have specialized operating procedures. Most of these software providers, such as BlueRithm or Facility Grid, focus on making it easier to follow along the process by having these forms readily available to us and the contractors and easily tracked. This helps reduce the time spent creating the forms and checklists so that more time is spent on commissioning the systems themselves. Any issues that arise during the process are assigned to the respective sub-contractor and are thoroughly documented. These issues are not closed-out until the issue has been resolved and the owner is satisfied with the solution.

For existing buildings, Re-/Retro-Cx and On-going Cx work in the similar manner, in the sense that the goal is ensure the system functionality is per the design and intent of the architects, engineers, and the owner. Through the life of the building, there are always changes to the use of the space and maintenance and repairs don’t always keep up with issues that arise. Systems are neglected, controls are overridden, and efficiency and space comfort suffer as a result. A thorough walkthrough and analysis of the facility and its systems is used to develop a commissioning plan that will prioritize and select operational improvements. Capital projects are highlighted for systems that can no longer be repaired and that have reached the end of their life. For existing building projects, it is very important to be able to gather data from the existing systems so that we can know how they are performing compared to the original facility documentation. This is where data logging, trending, and analytics come into play. It is important for facilities to have Building Management Systems that allow for better control of the systems through scheduling and programming. Older facilities that don’t have these control systems are usually recommended to be upgraded to use these systems. Facilities without BMS are analyzed using data loggers such as Onset Data Loggers, which provides a variety of loggers that track space temperature, occupancy, and energy use. Facilities that do have BMS allow the Cx provider to use trend data to review the operation of the system and find deficiencies in the operation of the systems throughout the building. Many issues are hidden until trends shed light on operational gremlins within the systems. For example, a fan-coil unit might be able to keep a space satisfied, at the expense of running the fan too long or a water-valves that might be stuck open.  BMS usually provide a simpler way to gather this kind of trend data and others go even further and help plot this trend data for easier analysis. On-going commissioning software such as CopperTree and Resolute take this a step further and use the trend data in their software to create charts and reports and analyze them for us. They take baseline readings of the systems’ energy use and use that data to find faults and offer insights about what is happening. While this is an excellent tool for Cx Providers, these programs are even more valuable to the owner and their facilities team because they allow the software to find faults within the system and allow them to solve the issues rather than trying to find them themselves or when it’s too late and the systems are in full disarray.

Like all tools available, it is important to not only have them, but it is more important to know how to use them and putting them to use. Software developers are constantly updating and improving this process that allow us to give more value to our customers by facilitating the tedious work involved and stream-lining the process that used to take a majority of the time, whether it was creating checklists and tests, or gathering trend data and “cleaning it up.”  At the end of the day, gathering information and data from our projects is only as good as how it is used. The goal is to ensure that the Owner’s Project Requirements are met, and that the building project is delivered with all the systems operating efficiently and performing as designed.

  • Victor Ceballos, CEM